Design the Future


An Activity and Lesson for Families and the Classroom

The Engineering Design Process is a series of steps followed by engineers in developing a new product as they experiment and test their ideas, making changes and improvements throughout the process. In this activity students brainstorm problems that can be solved using technology. Students select an idea, design a computer to address the problem, and build a prototype based on their design for a computer they won’t be able to live without in 2030. 

Students in grades 3–12 learn about the engineering design process, develop 21st century skills—critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Students will also gain knowledge on key artifacts from CHM’s Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing exhibition. 

Learning Objectives

  • Students will understand that developing new ideas is a process that requires testing, experimentation, and improvements in design.
  • Students will conduct close study of some artifacts from CHM’s Revolution Virtual Tour to understand what a prototype is, how design has changed over time, how design choices can affect the success of a product, and the roles prototypes play in the engineering design process. 
  • Students will use what they have learned from examples of past computer products to design a computer of the future that incorporates features people will not be able to live without in 10 years. 
  • Students will work together in a group (virtual classmates/friends/family members) to develop plans for a product. 
  • Students will present their product idea with the goal of selling their product to a parent/teacher. 

Lesson Outline

  • Introduction
  • Brainstorming
  • Virtual Gallery Tour
  • Activity—Design Your Product Prototype
  • Presentation
  • Conclusion 


  • Blank sheet(s) of paper
  • Pencils 
  • Prototyping Supplies (Grades 3–5): cardboard, scissors, tape, glue, fabric, markers, plastic silverware, etc.

Part 1: Introduction by Parent/Teacher

Step 1

Open your discussion with this question:

What piece of technology can you not live without? Why?

Students can be very creative here. Technology can mean computers but it can also be your oven, microwave, hair dryer, or car. The important thing is to ask each student to explain why they can’t live without that particular technology and why they think it is important. 

Step 2

After discussing the opening question, talk about how many of the products and technologies we use today were designed by engineers1.


What do you think an engineer is? 

Step 3

Follow your discussion with this explanation:

Today, you are going to be an engineer, and you are going to think about different new technologies you wish existed—things that would make our lives better or easier. They might make it easier to get places, or to talk to people, or to learn new things—this is your chance to be really creative about what technologies you want to see.

And you are going to think about these ideas using a process called the Engineering Design Process.

Step 4

Explain that engineers use this process to:

Come up with an idea or problem they want to solve.

Think about how people have already tried to fix the problem.

Develop possible solutions.

Pick the best idea and start working on it—making changes and developments along the way.

Step 5

Explain how engineers use this process to build prototypes.

Learn More

What is a prototype2? How is it useful?

Step 6

Use this script to introduce your next steps:

We are going to look closely at several virtual artifacts and think about what they were designed to do, how people were supposed to use them, and what was (and was not) successful about these computers. 

Goal for the day:

We are going to be engineers and will work in groups of 2 or more (virtual classmates/friends/family members) to design a computer we won’t be able to live without in 2030. It will combine things that we use today but also new ideas for what you think will be important in the computers of the future, something you think would help your family, or your school, or you can think bigger—this is your chance to be creative!

Part 2: Brainstorm

Brainstorming is your chance to get out all your ideas! 

  • Don’t worry about picking one idea now—be creative and think of as many ideas as you can. You’ll narrow it down later. 
  • Encourage students to discuss their ideas and write them down on a sheet of paper. 
  • Encourage students to start by thinking about the needs and interests of their target audience (and how those needs and interests might have changed by 2030). 

Step 1

Ask these questions to encourage brainstorming: 

What are some tasks that you wish were easier? How could technology help make them easier?

What are things you love doing? How could technology change or improve that? 

How do you already use technology to help you? 

What about your family, what are some things that they wish were easier? What are some things that would make your mom or your dad’s life easier?

What technology do you wish you, your family, or your friend had to make things easier?

What problems would be solved by that new technology?

Part 3: Virtual Gallery Tour

Students will now take a look at two historical artifacts that began as prototypes. 

Goal: Students will focus on features, design, and usability of the products. 

  1. Visit the CHM Revolution Virtual Tour
  2. Find your answers for the artifacts by clicking on the corresponding stop numbers.
  3. Be sure to click on the audio button located at the bottom left corner of the artifact.
  4. Open the images to follow along with the audio.

The Kitchen Computer 

Jump to: Stop 14: The Kitchen Computer

Step 1

Open your discussion with this question:

Do you (or does anyone you know) ever use a computer in the kitchen? How? What for?

Step 2

Use these questions to guide your discussion:

How would you interact with this computer? How do you put in information? How do you get information out?

How is it similar or different to a laptop you have looked or worked on at home or school?

Would it be easy or hard to use? Why?

This computer wasn’t successful—why not?

What would you change to make it easier to use? Something you would buy?


More Information about the Kitchen Computer


Jump to Stop 27 PalmPilot

Step 1

Open your discussion with this question:

What does this device look like? Does it look familiar to something you (or anyone you know) use today? How?

Step 2

Use these questions to guide your discussion:

How do we use handheld computers today?

How do you interact with your phone? How do you think people interacted with the PalmPilot?

Why is it useful to have a handheld computer? When do you wish you had a bigger computer?

How is this similar or different to the kitchen computer?

How is this computer similar or different to ones you use now? 

What features on this computer do you think will still be around in 10 years? What will be different?


More Information about the PalmPilot

Part 4: Design Your Product Prototype (Activity)

Goal: Design a computer we won’t be able to live without in 2030.


Part 5: Presentation

Students present their product and idea to the parent or teacher. 

Parent or teacher give feedback on the product based on the following criteria (applicable for Grades 6–12):

How does this innovation benefit society?

What makes the innovation stand out?

Part 6: Conclusion

Emphasize the importance of design—not just about what the technology can do but about what people want, what they will use the product for, whether they can afford it, etc. 

Ask students to think about the computers they use every day (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.) and look more carefully at them today. What do you like about the design? What would you change if you could?

#DesigntheFuture Prototypes


  1. Definition of Engineer. Retrieved from
  2. Definition of Prototype. Retrieved from
© CHM. Designed by CHM Education. This workshop is adapted from CHM’s on-site workshop: Broadcom presents Design_Code_Build Weekday Workshops – Design the Future. 


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